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Stupid CupidFrom a couple of failures came one of the biggest hits for Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, Connie Francis.  She had started out as a recording artist for MGM with little success, in fact, Connie couldn’t get a recording contract from any other label during the 1950s.  In 1958, Dick Clark played Connie’s “Who’s Crying Now” on American Bandstand, and her career immediately took off.  It was the beginning of one of the biggest success stories in early rock ‘n roll, and some very tragic consequences along the way.

A set of young neighbors from Brighton Beach and famous Abraham Lincoln High School were signed to write songs for the newly formed Aldon Music label of Don Kirschner and Al Nevens.  Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield were tasked with writing a new hit for Connie.

The Diary and Stupid Cupid

Legend has it that Ms. Francis was summoned to the Brill Building in 1958 to find her next hit record.  She was assigned to the Sedaka/Greenberg team.  The two writers sang her every ballad they had written, but toward the end of the session, she began to get bored and started writing in her diary.  She thought that the songs were all too sophisticated for the young generation of the day.  Howard Greenberg reportedly offered to audition a song he and Sedaka had written for a different recording artist, a girl group.  Sedaka was relucant, as they had already promised the song to the group.  “Stupid Cupid” was finally played for Connie, and she recalls telling the young songwriting team that it would be her next hit record.  She was right.

Sedaka reportedly asked to see what Connie had written in her diary, she refused, and purportedly that encounter became the inspiration for his 1958 hit “The Diary.”

The Brill Building

Throughout the “Your Songs” project, you will find we refer a lot to the Brill Building and the immense influence the activity there in the late 50s and early 60s had on American Pop music.  It’s difficult to tell any stories about those early doo wop and pop days without including the song “mill” that was the Brill Building.  To dismiss it’s importance, regardless of how one views the musicality of the songs written there, is to ignore a significant part of music history.  It would be comparable to imagining the history of rock music without “The Sound” from Philadelphia, Sun Records in Memphis or Motown.

Sedaka and Greenberg were perhaps the most successful writers to come from Aldon, there were others, and many went on to having recording careers as well, including Carol King, Neil Diamond and Paul Simon.  Sedaka and Greenberg would go on to write many of Connie’s other early 60s hits from those hollowed halls in Manhattan.

America’s Sweetheart of Song

No doubt Connie’s “Who’s Crying Now” sent the young singer on her way to becoming the most successful female act in pop music (even more successful than Madonna).  But “Stupid Cupid” was the song that solidified not only her career, but the careers of Sedaka/Greenberg as songwriters, and eventually opened the door for Sedaka’s singing career as well.

All Music considers Connie the prototype for the female pop singers of today.  Her sound at the height of her popularity was unique among female recording artists of the day.  She really set the bar for what was to come for female pop artists.

From Franconero to Francis

At the young age of 10, Connie was accepted on a New York City television talent show hosted by Arthur Godfrey.  He had difficulty pronouncing her last name and suggested something “easy and Irish.”  Thus she became Connie Francis.  That’s particularly ironic to me personally, because the same “rules” used to be given to those of us that were Radio hosts in the 60s and 70s seeking an on-air name: “easy and Irish.”  I chose to buck the system and go with something easy and Dutch.

Tragic Later Life

Though Connie enjoyed immense success in her early years, by the 1970s, her life would be shattered by a rape and later with the brutal murder of her brother.  She reportedly suffers from depression to this day.  But from tragedy comes success, which she was been able to amass for the past 50 years, continuing to sing to sold-out audiences.

Charts

“Stupid Cupid” peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958.  It is one of the slew of successful hits she released during the late 50s and early 60s, including “Where the Boys Are,” “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” “Angel In The Morning” and more.

In 2001, pop singer Mandy Moore performed “Stupid Cupid” in Walt Disney’s film “The Princess Diaries.”

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The second top 20 hit for two of Rock’s biggest perfectionists, 1972’s “Reelin’ In The Years” was perhaps the most overly polished song from the debut album Can’t Buy A Thrill for song writing duo Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, better known as Steely Dan.  The Dan had hit a stride that has endeared them to fans for the past 40 years, and “Reelin’ In The Years” is still a concert staple for them.

Can’t Buy A Thrill

Fagen and Becker were both students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York when they met in 1967.  They shared a common interest in jazz and “beat” literature of the day.  “Steely Dan” was “lifted” from William Burroughs “Naked Lunch.”  In the book “Steely Dan” was a sex toy.

After failing to make it as song writers at the now famous (or infamous, depends on your point of view) Brill Building, the pair teamed up with Jay and The Americans and eventually made it to Los Angeles to churn out hits for ABC records.  Secretly, the duo planned with producer Gary Katz to start their own group, which was a good idea because their sophisticated song writing wasn’t working for ABC top stars of the day Three Dog Night and Dusty Springfield.

Together with Denny Dias, Jeff “Skunk” (Doobie Brothers) Baxter, Jim Hodder and vocals by David Palmer (plus studio musicians), Steely Dan recorded it’s first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill.

Thrown Together vs. Perfectionism

Following the surprising commercial success of Can’t Buy  Thrill, ABC Records demanded a quick promotional tour.  The pair reluctantly agreed.  “Reelin’ In The Years” emerged and hit #11 on the charts.  The pressure continued and another album was demanded.  The group was recording during breaks in the tour, which was contradictory to Fagen & Becker’s perfectionist work ethic.

The same perfectionism would eventually lead to Steely Dan becoming a mostly studio act, consisting of mostly studio musicians in the years to follow.  Fagen, though uncomfortable with his own lead vocals, reluctantly took over the job from David Palmer when his vocal style didn’t convey the attitude wanted and needed by Fagen and Becker.  Again, perfectionism would be the hallmark of Steely Dan recordings and stage shows.  Palmer quietly left the group during the recording of the second album.  He went on to to co-write with Brill Building alum Carol King on 1974’s  hit “Jazzman.”

Praise from Page

Session guitarist Elliott Randall sat in on “Reelin’ In The Years” and played the well-known guitar solo.  His solo recieved praise from the legendary Jimmy (Led Zeppelin) Page who said that Randall’s solo on “Reelin’…” is his favorite guitar solo of all-time.  The solo was ranked 40th best by readers of Guitar World magazine and 8th best by Q4 Music.

Randall also played the guitar solo in Fame.

Rock’s Odd Couple

Steely Dan today

Fagen and Becker are the antithesis of  a rock group.  With their roots in jazz, and their song crafting being jazz infused both lyrically and musically, the two never did the “rock ‘n roll” part of Rock ‘n Roll.  They didn’t hone their sound in garages and clubs, they didn’t subscribe to a group of musicians that would help shape their overall sound.  More important, their song craft has made them unique, sophisticated and distinctive.

Never apologetic for their stylings, Steely Dan disbanded in 1981 after a nearly decade long of success.  Donald Fagen went on to record a successful solo album “Nightfly” and Walter Becker moved to Hawaii to grow avocados. They have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They have since re teamed and both recorded and performed over the past 20 years.

Rock and Jazz Royalty

One other tidbit of Steely Dan that exists is the fact that some future stars honed their craft with The Dan during those early years, including the aforementioned “Skunk” Baxter,  Michael (Doobie Brothers) McDonald, Jeff (Toto) Porcaro, Michael Omartian, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Mark (Dire Straits) Knopfhler and more.  One can only imagine the talent of those sessions.

Oh, and as for the 8th best guitar solo of all time played by Elliott Randall, well, Randall has played with rock royalty himself over the years.  He’s backed for the Ronneettes, Cream, The Bee Gees, The Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton and more.

Charts, et. al.

“Reelin’ in the Years” peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in 1973.  Can’t Buy A Thrill went Gold and Platinum, peaking at #17 on the album charts.  Of note, Can’t Buy…was recorded in both Stereo and a special four-channel Quadrophonic mix, which included extra guitar fills by Randall.

Frankenstein Edgar WinterRock’s best known instrumental or just a great job of editing?  You be the judge of 1973’s hit “Frankenstein” from The Edgar Winter Group’s LP They Only Come Out At Night. Edgar, brother of Johnny Winter, was born December 28, 1946 in Beaumont, Texas.  Both started playing in their teens, together, in a number of Texas R & B and Blues groups.  They both played the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

The Edgar Winter Group

The Group consisted of Edgar Winter, Dan (I Can Live Without You) Hartman, Ronnie (Jump On it!)  Montrose  and drummer Chuck Ruff.  Previously, Edgar’s group was called “White Trash.”  The members of the EWG went on in the 70s to do their own things, but remain only separated within two degrees of each other, mostly via Sammy (Montrose) Haggar, who was NOT in the EWG, ever.  Additionally, past and future Edgar Winter band mate Rick (Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo) Derringer guest performed and produced They Only Come Out At Night. Rick, of course, was a band mate with brother Johnny early on as part of “Johnny Winter And” the “And” being the McCoys of “Hang On Sloopy” fame, which we’ll explore in a later post, stay tuned!

Splicing Tape and a Razor Blade

We take for granted that the daunting task of editing media today with software and virtual oscilloscopes on our favorite iMac (or PC) is a relatively simple task when compared to the only editing method available in the early 70s which included a single edged razor blade, 1/4″ oxide tape, a grease pencil, a grooved and mitered splicing block and splicing tape.

According to lore, the name “Frankenstein” not only refers to the monster-esque riffs in the tune, but Chuck Ruff is credited with naming the song because of it’s somewhat monster like edit job.  There are reportedly two drum solos, one by Ruff and another played by Edgar, spliced together, as well as most of the other parts of the song.  In concert, the group never really performed any two versions alike (which is probably true of all live performances when you think of it) as the riffs played on stage were less structured and more improvised.  One account reports most of the song laying on the cutting room floor when they mixed it for the album.

Versions

Of course, there are many versions of this song out there.  The two important studio versions were the “album length” version of 4:44, the original splice and block edit.  Then, as was the practice in the early 70s world of dominant AM Top 40 Radio, there was the “single” edit version, from the original album version, total time 3:28, coming in just under the preferred playtime of 3 mins. 30 secs. for radio at the time.

The main riff of the song and variations of same were originally heard on earlier work by Winter, including “Hung Up” from Entrance and “Martians”  from Standing on Rock.

There are also references online to the fact that Edgar used to perform the song in early concerts with brother Johnny in which he plays ALL of the instruments as a demonstration.  Apparently, one such version appears as a bonus track on Johnny’s two disc Deluxe Edition CD of Second Winter. The live performance of “Frankenstein” was at the Royal Albert Hall (same Albert Hall referred to in the Beatles “A Day In The Life” …Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall…) three years prior to it being recorded.

Original Release

More than one source attests to the fact that “Frankenstein” was actually released to radio in 1973 as a “B” side.  Which was the case in a handful of hit songs, the hit song was actually not released as the “hit.”  The  first side, “Hangin’ Around” was released as the single, but radio found the gem on side B and in May of 1973 “Frankenstein” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

Other sources claim the working title of the song was “Double Drum Solo” based on the Ruff/Winter dual percussion solo (shouldn’t that be a duet?)

The Strap

Among being able to play just about any instrument, Edgar Winter is credited with inventing the synthesizer neck strap.  He was the first to free the keyboard from being a static instrument on stage.  This innovation has allowed Edgar to play multiple instruments simultaneously in concert, a high-energy staple of his shows.  There is an example at the end of the post, a 9 minute version on video  from 1973 and “Burt Surgarman’s Midnight Special.”  Also featured is a performance of the drum solo (duet?).  Worth the nine minutes.

Charts

They Only Come Out At Night peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album chart and stayed on the chart for an impressive 80 weeks.  It was certified gold in April 1973 and double platinum in November 1986.  “Frankenstein” topped the Billboard Single Chart for one week in May of 1973.  The follow up hit from They Only Come Out… was the Dan Hartman penned “Free Ride.”

Welcome to our little “project” called “Your Songs.”

Our intent is that this will become a tome of trivia about the songs that make up the history of popular rock music in America.  The main time period that we will examine is from 1955 until 1995, as a general rule.  After 30 plus years in radio, there are a lot of stories that have been shared over the years about the songs, and the people that wrote and/or sang them.

Each entry will pertain to a particular song, and will be titled as such for ease of reference.  Eventually, this should be an archive of really interesting factoids about these songs, so referencing them as such will make it easy for DJs of oldies stations, and other aficionados of these old tunes to find this information.  The eventual goal is that this project will be a bona fide authority on the subject.

If you wish, RSS us to stay updated.  If you dispute the validity of any claim or story, please feel free to correct us with proof of validity.  Please remember that the stories we publish here are sometimes retold from hearsay, so we claim no validity to the actual truth of the post, but we will try to validate the information as best we can prior to publishing.

Thanks for checking us out, we welcome your input, AND please let us know if you want us to take a better look at “Your Song.”

jvc